ST. PETERSBURG — Rays right-hander James Shields said he anxiously paced around his Clearwater home Tuesday afternoon in the 10 minutes prior to the American League Cy Young Award announcement.
Shields knew Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander was a lock to win — and Verlander was the unanimous choice by all 28 voters after leading the league in ERA (2.40), wins (24) and strikeouts (250).
"I think it was unanimous throughout the whole world," Shields quipped.
But Shields was hoping he'd land in the top five, and he was thrilled when he finished third, behind Verlander and Angels right-hander Jered Weaver. The top-five finish increased Shields' 2012 option $500,000 to $8 million.
"I was excited, just to be part of that kind of talented group of guys that were up there with me," Shields said. "It's definitely an honor. Obviously every pitcher wants to win the Cy Young, but with the kind of year Verlander had, it was a no-doubter."
Verlander, who is also an MVP candidate, is the first unanimous AL Cy Young selection since Twins left-hander Johan Santana in 2006. He had 196 points, topping Weaver (97 points), Shields (66), Yankees lefty CC Sabathia (63) and Tigers closer Jose Valverde (28).
"It's an amazing experience," Verlander said. "It's something I've worked for and always dreamed of."
Verlander was impressed with the bounceback season by Shields, who racked up a career-high 16 wins and 2491/3 innings, including a major-league-most 11 complete games.
"I thought it was incredible — 11 complete games? That's just amazing," Verlander said. "Me and some of the other starting pitchers on our team, we'd comment every time, 'Oh my gosh, he threw another one.' "
Shields credited pitching coach Jim Hickey for one of the biggest factors in his turnaround from a tough 2010 (5.18 ERA and 15 losses), helping him refine his delivery and hone his mechanics. He said it was also a year in which he was "the healthiest I've been," and that finishing third was both a "validation" and "gratifying."
Shields follows left-hander David Price's second-place finish in the 2010 Cy Young voting, and comes one day after right-hander Jeremy Hellickson claimed the 2011 AL rookie of the year award. Hellickson said Shields had an "unbelievable" year and huge impact on his own season, with Price offering congratulations via Twitter: "Any other year his stats win it!!"
"It shows what kind of staff we have on the Rays," Shields said. "To have guys like that on our staff, not one guy but five guys that could potentially have those kind of awards and those kind of years."
Shields hopes to build off his big year, saying it's a "season I'm capable of having in the future."
"I don't think I'm going to predict 11 complete games next year, but hopefully I can get a couple," Shields said, laughing. "I'm definitely a realist, I think the year I had was definitely a phenomenal year when I look back on it. The sky is the limit. You always want to try to beat the season before next year, I'm going to try my best to repeat what I did."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.